How to Declutter Your Home Office The Right Way

Remote work continues to change how employers and employees do business and interact. One aftereffect of the revolution is with more people working from home, you can bet there are a lot more messy couches, patios and home offices.

And it’s a lot easier to leave that clutter because, well, you’re home. No one’s going to see it except the family and friends comfortable with your habits.

If working remotely, you want to keep your spaces as professional as a work space you commute to. Cleanliness is attractive and makes work easier. It reinforces the idea you’re a professional. In that regard, you should occasionally take stock in your work space and clear it out.

We know it takes effort.

So, here are a few ideas for decluttering home offices and work spaces.

Why Declutter?

Clear and clean work areas increase productivity and decrease anxiety and stress. Some people operate fine in cluttered spaces but, for most, a clean area is refreshing. It puts you in a sound mind frame and gets you ready to perform more efficiently.

Decluttering Step by Step

8 Things to Take Care of Right Away

1. Paper

Check and recheck every piece of paper. Get a scanner, make copies and categorize digitally. After scanning, toss most everything (i) that isn’t a signed contract or (ii) that’s not needed for a project right now. (More on this later.)

2. Cleaning Up Cable Works

We all have them. Cables coming out of anywhere and somewhere. Power surge protectors taking cords everywhere. This will be a good time to see what’s doing what and getting rid of what you don’t need.

3. Broken Equipment

Get rid of that computer you no longer use. Sure, it has a place in your heart but it’s taking up space. Lose the pencils that are smaller than your shortest finger. Dump pens and markers that don’t work.

4. Excess Supplies

If you’re no longer a party planner, do you really need to hang onto name labels? If you have a significant inventory of any particular office supply, parse it down to a reasonable quantity. Donate the surplus.

5. Empty Ink Cartridges

We hang onto empty toner and ink cartridges because they’re recyclable. But how often do we actually get to the retailer and recycle? That’s why they build up. Bag them and take care of that. Now. And make an effort to not let recyclables heap.

6. Books

We like having books around. They make us feel knowledgeable. If they’re neatly on shelves, good. But if they’re in stacks on the floor or on the desk, box them or donate them.

7. Knick-Knacks

If your desk is as much bric-a-brac as it is necessities, tone it down. Your home office can have a personal touch but don’t overdo it. If you’re constantly moving things around to make room, there’s too much in the space.

8. Unnecessary Items

If your area has toys, dishes or multiple coffee cups, get them out and keep them out. Of course, they’ll probably come back but keep in mind you can do something about it (like clean it up). Less clutter now means less decluttering later.

Methods for Decluttering that Home Office

Work in Sections

There’s no golden rule for cleaning up or for starting and finishing. Conduct home office decluttering in zones and times. Start with filing, go to desk tops, drawers, cords, paper, etc. Work left to right, top to bottom, whatever’s comfortable for you. Seeing small successes will make the chore less taxing and inspire you to go further.

Hang Onto the Essentials

“Just in case.” It’s an easy excuse to hang on to papers, unused appointment books and post-it pads. Instead, digitize what you need to keep and toss the physical bits. Rule of thumb should be anything you haven’t used in the previous 18–24 months is obsolete.

Take Advantage of Tech

Technology will be invaluable to reducing and minimizing future clutter. You can store documents in the cloud. This not only reduces paper, storage clouds prevent cluttering your hard drives.

Create Your Categories

Sort the essentials and inventory everything in a way that make essentials manageable. Have sections for this type of client and that client, all in one client category. Create marketing and financing sections or whatever’s relevant to your work. Make notes as you break it down, generating lists of commonalities.

Storing Physical Files

There are documents you’re obligated to keep physical copies of. (More later!) If you do find yourself with a noticeable amount of paper or other physical instruments that need storing, you’ll need a space for keeping them. One that’s accessible and not in the way. This can be a closet, a file cabinet or a drawer.

Use Labels

Labels make it easier to locate information quickly. There’s no worse way to create a mess than when you need something you can’t find. Color coding, naming, categorizing and other solutions create association and easier recognition.

Neaten Up Behind Yourself

Store documents as quickly as possible. Get rid of post-its and notes you no longer need. When you finish one job, clean up before you start the next. Have a regular time set aside for scanning and filing so that clutter doesn’t build up. When you don’t settle for clutter, you’re far more likely to not accumulate clutter.

Enjoy Your Meals Elsewhere

Avoid eating in your workspace. Not as easy as it sounds when you’re busy, but it’s a good idea to stop what you’re doing. Take your meal to the dining room table or kitchen. Take a break and watch a half hour of television. Containers, soda cans and other food supplies can quickly create a mess.

Keep an In- and Outbox

Sometimes you can’t file right away or get to that assignment right now. What needs your attention immediately or will need it sooner than later can be set aside neatly in a visible workspace. You’ll always know where that next task is.

Form and Function

Your business style is important. Picking a tray, desk or filing cabinet should fit your needs. But going with a furnishing that also fits your sense of fashion makes the home office appealing to you. It can motivate both work and the desire to keep the area clean.

Schedule Decluttering Times

It’s easy to look up and find your home office is back to where you don’t want it. Decluttering is an ongoing, and for some, tough process. Set aside a time for leafing through items in order to stay organized. End of day or once a week or month, make decluttering an aspect of the work.

Some General Ideas

Important Documents

We talked about getting rid of or storing items. Thankfully, with today’s technology you can digitize anything on paper, stripping away most physical filing. But whether you’re digitizing, throwing away or hanging onto paper, here are must documents you want to keep.

  • Last 10 years of tax records
  • Medical records going back five years
  • Five years of insurance records
  • A year of pay stubs and utility bills
  • Six months of credit card statements

Become a Minimalist in Your Décor

When you smartly minimize your workspace, you increase productivity and reduce the possibility of clutter. Don’t have an oversized file cabinet, especially if you’re digitizing. A picture of the family on the desk is nice. There’s no need for individual shots of everyone. The less you have around the less you have to work around.

Don’t Clean on Your Day Off

Decluttering your home office when you’re not supposed to be working intensifies the idea it’s a chore. Trying to do so on your time off also makes it easier to put off. Do a little cleaning every day, a thorough cleaning of sections or put things in their respective places as soon as possible. You’ll walk into a ready-to-go work area every time.

Think of Everything as Having a Home

If you see all your items as having a home, you’re more likely to manage the space. If the stapler belongs in that corner of the desk or in the top drawer, it’s more likely to end up there. This is easiest to manage if your space is minimalist. An object out of place stands out and can trigger a need to correct the situation.

Do Something with Those Business Cards

Put all those business cards you collected at the convention or seminar on your phone. Make this a part of your daily routine. Business cards remain a key opportunity for connectivity. And remote workers and freelancers will always need to exchange business cards to stay in the game. But cards don’t have to pile up.

One of the nicer aspects of decluttering your home office is the results will energize you. It will simplify getting to work and increase productivity. Remember, one of the coolest things about remote work is you work at your own pace. Meet deadlines and still find the time to stop and declutter your home office and work spaces.

Freedom.to Focus App Review

You’re surrounded by more distractions than at any other point in human history.

Your phone pings, buzzes and bleeps.

Push notifications barge their way onto your screen.

And your email inbox is constantly trying to take your attention away from actual work.

So finding a way to block these distractions is something 90% of people need so that they can stay productive.

That goes double for people who work for themselves.

Because it’s that or delete your social media accounts.

After all, the average person spends 2 – 3 hours per day on social media.

Achieving absolutely nothing of value.

And once distracted it can take up to 23 minutes for your brain to settle back into a flow state.

If you’re lucky.

I’ve tested a number of different focus apps over the years to block distracting websites.

And after one disappointment after another I finally found one that works.

Introducing the Freedom app.

Freedom is a distraction blocking/focus app for PC, Mac, tablet, and smartphone.

This means you can block apps and websites across multiple devices.

It even works on Linux and ChromeOS via the Freedom extension for the Chrome browser.

Okay, not everyone wants to use Chrome (and I get why) but at least you have the option of using Freedom if you want to.

So it’s also not as restrictive as say Focus, which is only available for macOS.

It’s also extremely affordable, but we cover that in more detail a little later.

What can it block?

So, your standard distraction blocking apps will limit what websites you can visit.

Freedom does this via a system called blocklists:

You can choose to simply ‘Block All Websites’ or use a pre-defined list like my ‘Social’ block list.

  1. You can block entire categories of websites such as ‘Shopping’, ‘Dating’, and ‘Politics.
  2. Or you can simply block individual websites.

I used the second option because it allows me more…Freedom.

See how that works?

You can add a device to your account by clicking on ‘Add a device’:

So, all your Internet blocking is taken care of with just one or two clicks of a mouse.

But can also block specific desktop app, which is great news for all the email inbox junkies reading this.

You know who you are – you drop everything the split second an email notification appears on your screen.

And then emerge an hour later, “…frustrated that you’re behind schedule.”

Which is entirely your own fault…even though you hate to admit it.

Speaking of schedules, you can also set up recurring blocked out times of your day:

Easy-peasy.

Anyways, Freedom app blocking works in much the same way as their Internet blocking does.

First you need to set up what apps you want to block by clicking ‘Manage Blocked Desktop Apps’:

Then tick the boxes for the apps you want to block:

Just make sure the app you want to block is actually active when you use this feature e.g. Outlook or Thunderbird.

And then simply start your blocking session.

Which we cover next.

Blocking sites and apps

Blocking sites or apps with Freedom is as straightforward as you could want it to be.

It to each chunk of blocking as a “session”.

Sessions can be preset (25 minutes to 2 hours), custom or even scheduled:

I typically block everything out for an hour on good days, or 2 hours when I really kneed to knuckle down and get stuff done.

What if you accidentally start a session blocking sites you genuinely need?

Well you can pause the Freedom session if you like, or login to the website interface and unblock a specific website.

They do offer a ‘Locked Mode’ though for the hardcore types who don’t want to be able to quit.

Just use that wisely, especially if you typically use blocking sessions that are longer than 2 hours.

Believe me, there’s nothing worse than blocking things out in ‘Locked Mode’ only to realize you’ve used the wrong list and now have to find something else to do for the next 4 hours.

Not good.

What happens if you “accidentally” open one of your blocked sites?

You’re greeted with a friendly message from Freedom:

I actually smile when this appears because it means I’ve gotten distracted and almost ghosted over to Facebook or YouTube.

So I know Freedom just saved me at least 35 minutes of wasted time.

Using Freedom

What I love about Freedom is that it doesn’t get in my way until I specifically want it to.

And when I do want to start a session it takes me three clicks and then I can forget about it until it notifies me that my session is done.

There’s no complicated web-based interface, or having to leave a browser window open.

Or constant crashes.

Or any of the other crap I’ve had to put up with when using other focus apps or distraction blockers.

I’ve seen several people complain that Freedom doesn’t have a Pomodoro feature.

Which seems like a weird complaint for two reasons:

  1. It’s not a Pomodoro tool
  2. It’s default time setting is 25-minutes

But during periods when I need complete and total concentration I simply run Freedom first and then start my free Pomotodo timer.

And that solution works perfectly.

The Freedom productivity app is also regularly updated, and the neat thing is that the updates are pretty much automatics, so there’s very little thought required on your part.

Bonus Feature

I have to be 100% honest here, I only found this feature while putting together this review.

Even though it’s probably been there for years.

It’s a set of ‘Focus sounds’:

This is a playlist of background noises that you can play while you’re working.

These are split into three main categories: offices, nature and coffee shops.

Now, I typically use a Spotify playlist of movie soundtracks, but I tested the ‘Coffee shop’ sounds today and it was oddly relaxing.

It also managed to keep me focused.

So these are ideal maybe for people who need background noise to help them keep on track.

The only downside is that you have to run the focus sounds from an active web browser window.

What it costs

Freedom, alas, is not free.

You can give it a test drive for 7 days thanks to their free trial.

But you have to pay for it after that:

So at worst you can try it for an entire month for just $6.99.

And that’s still a hell of a lot cheaper than something like focus which costs $19 per month for the basic version.

Now the other thing is that you can get an entire year of Freedom for just $29, or $2.42 per month

To be honest, I forgot I was on a monthly subscription until today…so upgraded to an annual plan while writing this.

So choosing the annual subscription saves you (and me) $83 per year.

Oh and Freedom comes with a whole pile of “Perks” in the form of discounts or extended free trials for a whole variety of tools and services ideal for creative types.

That’s really just the icing on the cake though.

Pros

  • Is a combined website blocker and app blocker
  • Anyone can use this app – it’s that intuitive
  • Productivity sessions can be tailored to your exact needs
  • Doesn’t slow your device down after installation
  • Works across multiple devices and Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS
  • Far more affordable than most other app blockers

Cons

  • Freedom does experience the odd toolbar crash – but it doesn’t actually kill the process.
  • Focus sounds feature is only available via a web browser.

Wrapping it up

If I sound like a bit of a Freedom fanboy, it’s because I totally am – I use Freedom every day to block distractions.

When I spend money on tools I expect them to get the job done and without causing me any further headaches.

Especially productivity tools.

How effective is it?

A large project that would normally take 10 hours of my day can be completed in half the time.

And all by simply blocking out distractions from apps and websites that don’t actually make me any money.

So I really do hope you find Freedom as useful as I have, and this review along with that.